Bay Improvement Group President Steve Barrison spoke at last night’s Sheepshead Bay / Plumb Beach Civic Association meeting, explaining the importance of the neighborhood’s Special Purpose District, and urged residents to join in protecting it.
The presentation came as Barrison and others seek to unite and fight off plans to exempt Cherry Hill Gourmet Market from the district’s mandates, though the market inside the historic Lundy’s building was never specifically named during the meeting.
Barrison gave a brief rundown of the history of the district, enacted into law in 1973, made to protect the Emmons Avenue waterfront from large-scale developments and limit usage to waterfront recreational and tourist activities. The district runs along Emmons Avenue from Sheepshead Bay Road to Knapp Street, though different uses are permitted in different sections. Around Ocean Avenue, where Lundy’s and Cherry Hill Gourmet Market stand, grocery stores and supermarkets are barred.
“Right now there’s a developer and a real powerful lawyer and law firm who wants to change the special district to make an illegal use legal. I’ve been criticized, other people got criticized, some people you hear the stories ‘Something’s better than nothing at all,’ that kind of stuff. But this isn’t about ‘Something’s better than nothing,’ it’s about what is the law and why do we have it,” Barrison stated.
Though the property may have gone through a down period after the latest iteration of Lundy’s closed in 2007 and sat empty for two years, that’s a short period of time in relation to the purpose of special zoning districts, Barrison said. These areas are meant to provide long-term protection over multiple generations. Barrison also said he knew of other restaurants that would have been interested in the space.
He added that the community is settling for less than it deserves by permitting a grocery store in that location, regardless of how upscale it may be.
“If it’s a grocery store, it’s a grocery store, it’s a grocery store. Doesn’t matter whether it’s fancy or not fancy,” he said. “The question is what’s the use and what’s the zoning and in what district? … That’s what it’s all about. Following the law.”
The civic itself, which Barrison is not a part of, initially supported Cherry Hill’s plans to expand in the neighborhood in 2009. But now some say they and the city were misled, as Cherry Hill originally proposed a restaurants with a small accessory market on the premises. When no restaurant was built, and it became clear most of the floor space was given over to the market, the city slapped Stop Work Orders on the property. Cherry Hill opened anyway, and has continued to operate. They are now awaiting hearings with the Department of Buildings and City Planning Commission to exempt their business from the special zoning designation.
“Now they’ve developed clientele for a few years and they want to be rewarded,” Barrison said. “It’s like saying the people with the most money get what they want and the rest of us poor schnooks get screwed.”